Monday, September 29, 2008

Scents Upon the Cool Evening Air

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a singular bounty of the senses.

On my walk tonight, I enjoyed the coolest of this new autumn's evenings so far, a perfect and clean-feeling temperature calm and peaceful and not quite as glorious as it might have been with slightly better breeze blowing but glorious nonetheless.

I had a thought along the way that these walks I take are a part of my effort to stay alive. Since the act of living is a thing worth doing, and worth doing well, for a long time, in good health, I walk to stay alive.

But I need also to walk a path in my soul that will keep it as clean as these physical walks are meant to keep my veins. I must remember to exercise those parts of my mind, those fibers of my heart that glow and hold happiness -- so that my thoughts do not clog themselves up with the thick spiritual plaque of resentment and bitterness and discontent.  

These things will kill me. And I do not mean metaphysically -- it's pretty well documented that stress and depression have a profoundly negative impact on the human organism.

So as I walk to live, I also must hold to a course of the positive, if I want a long life in which I can not only enjoy myself but also gift others with whatever enjoyment and entertainment I am privileged to create.

All of this bumped around in my head as I walked, and then sort of faded into the background for a while. And then I passed through a waft of air that took me back to childhood -- to a fall or winter afternoon beneath grey skies outside of our little brick house where I liked to warm my hands at the vent that led from our clothes dryer inside. 

There is something precious to me in that memory. The sense of being made warm by something clean, while everything around you is chill and cold. And it came back and stayed with me through the rest of my walk, thanks to that one moment of scent.

Thank you, goddess of love, for neighbors doing their laundry, and drafts of dryer exhaust that can somehow put the final brush-stroke on an understanding of how we can be happy.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, September 19, 2008

We Who Understand Beauty

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you while an aftertaste of melancholy gives way to the flavor of hope.

If you are sad, take heart. Your grief is no less than a direct sign that you have known beauty. Think about this for a moment. Without a grasp of that which is good, how would you ever know to be sad?

Your soul may feel bruised, but it can only be bruised in direct proportion to your knowledge of what joy is. And if you possess that knowledge, then you can work toward possessing joy itself.

Thank you, goddess of love, for worry and woe as a meter of our connection to all that is pure, true, and glorious. In whatever degree we weep, so too do we know you and all of your kindnesses.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

A New (to Me) Literary Form

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you in a mood of experimentation, having recently come across a previously unfamiliar style of writing. The goal is to write a complete story in exactly 55 words, and I decided to try it.

Trouble came looking for me one day with sunglasses on and sunscreen. 
(That's because I like to stay where it's bright 
and make things hard on Trouble.)
I hid, and didn't feel guilty about it.
I mean, it's not like Trouble
has any difficulty finding company.
Maybe I'm wrong, though.
Maybe even Trouble
gets lonely.


Thank you, goddess of love, for new things found in blogs and elsewhere.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Gentle Touch and a Word of Comfort

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with an observation and an offering.

It seems to me that in this world, it does not happen often enough that those who have a gentle touch and a word of comfort to offer find those who need such things the most.

So tonight, by the light of a moon just shy of full, I do offer my hand across the miles to rest upon your back or cheek should you wish it, along with this assurance: whatever so deeply troubles you will pass. Step out into the moonlight, if you can. Imagine that its blue glow is the embrace that I send you. Lay your head upon your pillow as though it were my lap. Weep or laugh or simply relax, but know that I want you to feel better. And remember that the good in you is so much greater than the problems besieging you, and that all will be well as long as you make the decision to keep hope in your heart.

Thank you, goddess of love, for this opportunity to give.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, September 12, 2008

Beyond Affection

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with a mind still struggling to digest something peculiar.

A letter arrived yesterday from my father. I guess it's the fourth letter I've had from him since we got back in touch earlier this year. Before that, we hadn't communicated since 2005.

He's a very strange fellow, my father, and we used to get along quite well, albeit many, many years ago. But not so much lately. There's a control-obsessed side to his personality, I think, that has kind of goofed things up between us. (Or there's a rebellious side to my personality that has done so, or both.)

At any rate, I'm starting to get the impression from these recent letters that he's decided to live by a principle that he and my mom repeated endlessly when I was a child: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."

All of his recent letters have been very, very short.

I sent him something on his birthday this year. He responded with a letter that acknowledged receipt but made no mention of whether he'd liked it or even opened it. (That was the ice-breaker after our long mutual silence). He offered to send me a memoir he's been working on. I readily accepted and offered to send him my recent books. He sent me the memoir without mentioning my offer. I sent him the books anyway, and heard nothing back. I read the memoir and sent some notes on that (he'd asked for feedback). He sent this most recent letter, which basically thanked me for my notes and then waxed philosophical about something out of left field that I didn't really get. (I showed the letter to a friend who said it reminded him of someone's drunken ramblings. But since I could hear it in my father's voice, it didn't sound quite that illucid to me.)

My point in sharing all of this is simple: Love is stronger than affection.

I love my father, even though he gives me very little reason to feel any warmth or kindness toward him. I sympathize with him on some health concerns that he has, and I feel a sort of sad pity that he's blocked himself away from me and my siblings to various degrees. 

But I continue to make my efforts not out of sympathy or pity.

I make them because I love him, and because I love the memory of the time when I did feel warmly toward him.

This is one of the dangers of love, then. It can persist beyond affection -- and if it does so, it can make us feel trapped in obligations that burden us without bringing real joy.

Love without joy is a heavy, hard thing.

But ...

In making my efforts, in responding to my father, in taking his eccentricities with the best humor that I can, I maintain a state of hope. It's not a hope likely to be fulfilled -- he is probably never going to apologize for any of the harsh things he's said and done, any more than I would fake an apology for what I perceive to be my perfectly unobjectionable behavior, which he nonetheless has somehow managed to object to.

But it is a hope nonetheless, because hope is part of love.

And while we have moved beyond affection, there is power in hoping that it might return.

Thank you, goddess of love, for my father. Please salve his bitterness, buoy his spirit, and let him be happy and bring happiness to those around him.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

And You, My Love, Won't You Take My Hand?

Welcome, beautiful traveler. May your day have had fewer frustrations than mine had!

One of the things I love about the movie This is Spinal Tap is the way it portrays its group of addled, hedonistic neanderthals as somehow managing to hit upon true beauty every once in a while in spite of themselves.

The line above, from "Stonehenge," is so wonderful and sincere, and the music that accompanies it so momentarily ethereal, that I can't help but smile every time I hear it. And it's a real smile of contentment, not just of humor. The mandolin solo later in the song affects me the same way. The rest of the song is terrific too, for its silliness and bombast. But it's that line that always strikes me true.

Thank you, goddess of love, for reminders that even in parody there can be purity, and that even the least of us has a spark of wisdom now and again.*

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

(*And by "the least," I am of course referring to the fictional band members' level of intelligence, not the talent of the geniuses who put the movie together.)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Not To Be Alone

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the reassurance that you are known and cared for.

If we share nothing else, you and I, we undoubtedly share the experience of having felt lonely and apart. Some people are beset by that experience daily; others have to endure it only a few times in their lives. But if I understand anything about the human condition (and I suppose I should concede that maybe I don't), I'm fairly certain that the pangs of isolation are among the universal sensations common to all of us.

I believe it's one of the reasons we seek love -- one of the reasons our culture and literature is so rife with portrayals of love as completion, as the ultimate fulfillment.

We want not to be alone.

In one respect, all of our yearnings and strivings for connection are futile. (Don't worry, I'm not going on some kind of downer here -- stick with me.) Within our own heads, we will always have ourselves and only ourselves for company, and many of us will find that there are times -- even when throngs of people surround us, even when loved ones are at hand on any side -- in which we still feel lonely and uncared for. Because what is within our heads is too large to be gotten out, or too humiliating, or too perplexing, and so we despair of ever feeling that we are truly understood.

But to dig yourself out of those moments, when you have them, you might consider this: when you are in that place, feeling alone and unloved, you are in a place that unites you with all of humanity. So many of us are there, with you, at that same time -- feeling left out in the midst of a laughing crowd, alienated from the faces around a conference-room table, lying with a sense of unwantedness upon a bed in a small room while the sounds of a city alive at night murmur in from outside.

When you feel alone, uncountable millions of us are there with you. And so when you feel unwanted, stop and think of those millions, all wishing and missing and wanting, and understand that somewhere amongst them is someone who wants exactly you

And probably not just a single someone.

Right now, in that place of loneliness, the odds say that the person who would "get" you, who would complete you, is mirrored over and over a thousand or ten thousand times. If six billion of us in this world feel lonely for just one day of the year, then twenty million of us feel it at any given time. Are you unusual enough that only one in a hundred people could understand you? If so, then you share your loneliness with two hundred thousand kindred souls. So strange that only one in a thousand has any hope of a clue about you? Then twenty thousand others feel just as you do right now. And if your woes and griefs are so beyond the realm of normalcy that they make you literally one-in-a-million, that still leaves twenty bizarrely lonely spirits who are in your company.

We are here. We wish for you. Yearn for you. Would live and laugh and love with you in an instant, if chance presented us the opportunity.

Don't let the inconvenient fact that we haven't met -- yet -- prevent you from knowing that you can never be alone, because we are always there with you.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the power of large numbers, and for the imagination to see beyond the room in which we sit.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Friday, September 05, 2008

Possibly More Than You Want To Know About My iPod, But I'll Get To A Point Eventually

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I have just come from ambling, so beware of my rambling.

I went for a walk tonight, and my ipod blessed me with the most fabulous accompaniment. It started off with "Amhran" by Leaves' Eyes, which is nice and pretty but mostly served as a lulling lead-in to a song that I'd totally forgotten was even on my ipod, "You Only Live Twice." When that song began, it was as though my eyes had opened so wide that the starlight and the bare red ghost of dusk upon the horizon poured straight into my brain. The strings go through that amazing motif, a melody like autumn leaves drifting down to the surface of a still pond, and then Nancy Sinatra starts to sing those amazing, evocative lyrics about life and love and dreams -- astonishing.

Then, as if to say, "Well, I haven't got anything else pretty enough to hold a candle to that," the ipod went to "Ravenous" by Manegarm. Now, Manegarm is really much too screamy for me, and I always suspect that if I could understand a word of the screaming, I might find the lyrics highly disturbing. But they do know how to rock, and after the beauty of that John Barry song, it was like jumping into the Pacific Ocean to swim -- and I mean the California Pacific Ocean, not some tropical part where maybe it's warm enough that it doesn't send an absolute shock through your whole body.

Even better, the ipod cleverly went on to "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You (Tonight)" by Spinal Tap. How I love the rhythm guitar hook on that song and the way it comes back and introduces the solo section! There's a fine line between stupid and clever, and when you're Spinal Tap, it doesn't matter which side of that line you come down on -- it's all brilliant.

Having given me some breathing room, my witty little device eased back into pretty music to play "Byttingen" by Lumsk. I can't actually remember for sure what language Lumsk sings in -- Finnish? -- but  their vocalist has a piercing, crystal-pure beauty to her voice the likes of which I have really never heard.

The walk rounded out with two Therion songs back to back. "Three Ships of Berik (pt.1)" reminded me of the one sad aspect of song-shuffle on ipod -- if a band likes to do intros or segues that blend continuously from one track to another, you end up with an abrupt cut-off where the next song or part of the song (in this case, "Three Ships of Berik (pt.2)") ought to pick up. But the Leitmotif of the Gothic Army that runs through the song is too good to pass up even if I only get to hear half of it.

"Wisdom and the Cage" took me home, and I'm not even going to try to describe that one, except that once I reached my place I had to stand and listen all the way through to the last echoes of that hovering guitar chord  that ends it.

And when I said at the beginning of this entry that the accompaniment was fabulous, I meant it in two ways, the less obvious of which really hit me during "Wisdom and the Cage." 

I felt in the company of those musicians. I felt us to be kindred, and engaged in the same struggle to bring clarity and beauty to this world. And in feeling their success, I was able to accept some of my own successes in that area. I've always thought myself a pretty good writer (even back when it wasn't true), but I've lately been gifted with very good evidence that I'm not just pretty good, but really quite extraordinary. I had lunch this week with my latest reader, who had just finished the first two books of the trilogy I'm currently at work on.

She told me that I'd made her cry three times in the second book. And when she told me which three passages had done that trick, I felt more than a little bit thrilled, because those three spots make me cry whenever I reread them too. (Of course, I'm pretty weepy and easily moved to tears these days -- I cried buckets at the end of Wall-E for pity's sake.)

So I arrived home flush with a sense of belonging to a rare and exquisite group -- those whose imaginations are able to move others.

And then I went in to take a shower and got stuck looking in the mirror at my shoulders. I'm not in a particularly good position to make a judgment on whether they're as good a set of shoulders as my books are books. But they were good enough to remind me how wonderful the whole neck-to-sternum region of the human body is, male or female, front or back. The smooth curves of the deltoids reaching down to the arms, the hollows between the clavicles and what may very well be the most attractive muscle of any body, the sternocleidomastoids that run from the jaw down to the breastbone. (And no, I didn't look up sternocleidomastoid to spell it, so feel free to either be impressed if I got it right or jeer if I got it wrong.) 

Biology has no equal when it comes to intricate and magnificent and glorious loveliness.

Thank you, goddess of love, for shoulders, and music, and ipods, and success, and the random twists of the world that bring all of these things together.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Imagining Your Way to Bliss

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with the relief that comes of finally having a coherent thought.

I've been veering about in my beliefs about romantic love for some time, finding myself by turns either cynical or starstruck with dreamy idealizations, and at last I wonder if I've come upon a notion that explains or supports both positions.

The notion is this: that romantic love is a single fantasy (or even a delusion) that happens to be shared by two people. 

The power of fantasy is that it can go far, far beyond reality. So if you have a particular fantasy about what love is supposed to be, and you find someone with a corresponding or at least compatible delusion, the two of you can together achieve something like what is found in all the storybooks, because you're using the same techniques that the storybooks use: imagination, imagery, and the willful disregard for ugly truths that might otherwise intrude.

Love can fail, then, for the same reason that any other fantasy fails us and is discarded. It is difficult to keep a single idea fresh and alive for months or years, to apply the energy to maintain the fantasy in its initial form.

Love can fail also because it takes only one of the pair missing a beat on that maintenance to bring a disjuncture between the lovers' respective fantasies. When the one fantasy becomes two, they will inevitably begin to clash.

Yet if both partners realize that love is a landscape of the imagination, bounded only by the imagination, with two hands upon the brush and two sets of eyes choosing from the palette, then in a collaboration of spirits they are free to render whatever vistas of romance they choose, to range as far and as wide as they can agree upon.

This is probably why monogamy is the ubiquitous ideal of romance -- it is unlikely enough that two imaginations should have the compatibility to sustain a mutual dreamworld over the course of years or decades. What are the odds of finding three able to do so, or more? (Which is a shame, really, since anyone who's been around families with children should be able to quickly realize that as a practical matter, having a third or fourth adult in the house would work wonders for the stress levels and sanity of the parents.)

So then, unless I'm particularly full of it this evening, the trick of it is to find an imagination that can either parallel or mirror your own, and then work very hard, together with that imagination's owner, to paint a place where the two of you can live, and constantly change and update the image that you are imagining in order to keep it vibrant and new.

Alternatively, you could decide that you're not in for that much work.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the notion of romance, and for all those who are able to find it and make it work.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee

Give as You Can

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I am very tired this week, yet I greet you with what gifts I am able to muster the energy to give.

To be precise, I’ve been updating my profile with books and music and movies that I love. 

I’ve previously left these things off because I thought an air of mystery befit the anonymous founder of an agnostic religion, and because I like the notion of people filling in their idea of me in whatever way most pleases them. But I’ve hit upon no real wisdom to share in the last few days, and I’d like to share something.

So have a look at my profile if you care to, and if any of my recommendations leads you to something you like, then I feel grateful for the opportunity to brighten your world.

Thank you, goddess of love, for art of all kinds and for the wonderful spirits who create it.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee